Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the Eye on College Football examines what current hot topic the fans of one BCS team are obsessing over -- rationally or not. Today's team: the Duke Blue Devils .
What they're talking about is … The spring game. Surprise! It's the first spring game of the 2014 season. While Duke's basketball team has dominated the headlines recently, David Cutcliffe and the 2014 Blue Devils have started work on defending their ACC Coastal Division title. This is not the first time Cutcliffe has opted to get an early start on spring practice, but their appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 made for a quick turnaround from 2013.
This weekend, Krzyzewskiville will have some competition on Duke's campus as "Cutsboro" makes its debut outside Wallace Wade Stadium. After the historic 10-win season, fan interest in the football team has reached new levels.
What they're saying is … Jabari Parker should be ACC Player of the Year. The basketball team is still priority No. 1 for most Duke fans, but as Adam Rowe, of 247Sports' Blue Devil Lair, notes, the fact that students are getting involved with an effort like Cutsboro is a sign that things are going in the right direction.
"The tents will be a symbolic gesture, as the stadium could fit the entire undergraduate body inside of it ten times over, but it's yet another sign that the product on the field is starting to put butts in the seats," Rowe said.
Scanning the Blue Devil Lair message boards, fans are particularly interested in the replacement for several of the team's leaders. Duke's surge to the top of the Coastal Division was more gradual than sudden, and players like Ross Cockrell, Kenny Anunike and Juwan Thompson played a key role in the building and rebranding of Duke's program.
A sampling of sentiment from 247Sports' Blue Devil Lair:
-- "I think I might've underestimated the loss of leadership from last year's team to this year's team. From a purely talent standpoint, I would think we'd be as good if not better than the Chick-fil-a team, but you can't just replace leadership with talent."
-- Via Wayne Bumpass, 247Sports contributor: "Carlos Wray told me that he feels that Jeremy Cash provides the most leadership on defense. They all have kept up with Ross at the combine, and Shaq and B. Connette says it was a smooth transition in OC's. Shaq said that Scottie Mo brings 'swagger'."
-- Junior nose guard Carlos Wray offered some insight regarding the defensive line. The rotation along the D-line and in the secondary have been hot topics on the 247Sports message boards in addition to the questinos of leadership. Check below the video in the link above for some of the back-and-forth.
Another note on leadership, from the News & Observer's Laura Keeley: Cornerback Bryon Fields said this week that there is "no safety net" with Cockrell gone. Bryon called the former Blue Devils defensive back a "human cheat sheet;" verifying the popular assumption that Cockrell's absence will be an adjustment for the program.
What we're saying is … Trust in Cut more than your gut. While some teams look to generate buzz with spring practice, Duke has flown under the radar with closed practice sessions in the middle of hoops season. Duke's spring practice began less than a week after National Signing Day and less than six weeks after the final game of the 2013 season. But after Cutcliffe addressed the media this week in advance of Saturday's spring game, the decision started to make more sense.
Duke returns a relatively experienced team for 2014, and the decision to start early has helped the group build on the success of last season rather than try to recapture the energy after a layoff. Another angle to consider: Duke is not only building on last season, but using the postseason losses -- a blowout loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game and late-game thriller against Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl -- as motivation for next season.
According to Laura Keeley, quarterback Brandon Connette said this week that losing the ACC Championship stung more than the loss to Texas A&M and the Blue Devils' goal for 2014 is to win the ACC Championship. Your gut might say it's not possible. But trust in Cut more than your gut. This early start could help put Duke back into Coastal Division contention in the fall.